Land Rover Discovery Sport -Vs- Hyundai Santa Fe Comparison

Here’s a question from MIchaella, who says:

“I'm looking at the new Land Rover Discovery Sport: Is it worth the money, and is it safe (unlike Land Rover's Range Rover Evoque). Should I lean instead towards a Hyundai Sante Fe for value?”

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Easy question first. Is it safe? Yes - unlike the Range Rover Evoque SUV, which dropped the ball so badly in its offset frontal crash test, unequivocally the new Land Rover Discovery Sport SUV is much better.

Read my report on the appalling performance of the Range Rover Evoque and others in these two reports: Death Trap Premium SUVs >> and Santa Fe -Vs- Premium SUVs on safety >>

In December 2014 the Land Rover Discovery Sport SUV was independently tested and awarded five stars for safety by EuroNCAP. But here’s where even that gets interesting.

The new Land Rover Discovery Sport failed to do as well as the Hyundai Santa Fe SUV - in both standardised tests: the offset frontal crash test and in the pole impact test. In fact, the Hyundai Santa Fe crashed with five per cent better protection in offset frontal test. In the pole test, which is very severe, the Hyundai Santa Fe scored the maximum points, while the Land Rover Discovery Sport did not. In the pole test, independent experts from EuroNCAP dropped the safety ranking on the driver’s chest protection in the Land Rover Discovery Sport from ‘good’ to ‘adequate’. The Hyundai Santa Fe was rated as ‘good’ everywhere, by the same agency, in that test. It’s the highest possible rating.

There’s no excuse for this. The Land Rover Discovery Sport is a brand new vehicle. It’s a product, to some degree, of Land Rover’s former join at the hip with Volvo - the industry’s self-proclaimed safety superstar. That was back when both brands were part of Ford’s evil empire. (They called it the Premier Automotive Group, presumably because Evil Empire was taken.) The Evil Empire also included Jaguar and Aston Martin, and it stuttered from crisis to crisis until the big daddy of all crises, the Global Financial Crisis, when a fire sale of sorts was necessary for Ford to remain on life support. That’s the back-story. Here’s the need-to-know: If there are relativities in five-star safety ratings (and, trust me, there absolutely are) then I know which of these two vehicle I would preferentially crash in. And it would not be the Land Rover Discovery Sport.


Here’s where Land Rover’s head really does protrude significantly into the south end of its gastrointestinal tract: “Is it worth the money?” and “Should I lean towards a Hyundai Sante Fe for value?” (as asked by Michaella). These are flip-sides of the same hit single. So let’s take the poverty pack Land Rover Discovery Sport (the Discovery Sport Td4) and pitch it against the works burger of Hyundai Santa Fe (the Santa Fe Highlander).

Bear in mind, none of the facts and the pricing that follows is my opinion - it’s an objective answer to Michaella’s question using Australian specifications and recommended retail pricing. These two models - poverty pack Land Rover Discovery Sport Td4 and pimp’s Cadillac of Hyundai Santa Fe Highlanders are in the gun because they are line-ball on price.


Well, they are until you start thinking about specifications. Both the Land Rover Discovery Sport Td4 and the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander have 2.2-litre diesels. Slightly more peak output for the Hyundai Santa Fe; slightly less mass for the Land Rover Discovery Sport. Very similar performance for both SUVs in a straight line, guaranteed. Many of the same inclusions: proximity key, full-sized spare wheel and tyre ... stuff like that. And if you want to put both SUVs in a box - you will need exactly the same sized box for each. The dimensions are remarkably similar.


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But how similar are these SUVs two, in detail? These are pretty expensive toys, so value is an important consideration. And when you drill down into it, one is Malibu Barbie in a boxed set with Ken, the camper van, the wardrobe, and several different hair-dos, and the other is a kind of clothing-optional plastic Kim Kardashian in polymer, designed to scare the kiddies (is there any other kind).

Bear in mind also that Land Rover is very keen to frame the 'value' debate for the Discovery Sport in terms of perceived competitors from Audi and BMW - but the reality is, it has jumped down into South Korean territory on price, so this comparison is absolutely valid for anyone with fifty-something thousand dollars to spend on an SUV.


Me? I’d want an auto. I’m thinking: soccer mum, baby seats, traffic, hands-free conversations, tennis lessons, the spa, lunch with the girls and lippy at the lights. Who’s got time to change gear? Six-speed auto is how Santa Fe Highlander rolls standard from Hyundai's factory. But the auto is going to cost you two-and-a-half grand more in the Land Rover Discovery Sport. It’s a nine-speed transmission. So you can brag about that: mine’s bigger than yours in the Land Rover Discovery Sport. Are those extra ratios a practical advantage? Usually not.


The Hyundai Santa Fe is a standard seven-seater, while the standard Land Rover Discovery Sport Td4 is just five. So that means, if you are Snow White and your remit includes the routine transportation of Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey. And Sleepy in the back with a blanket over his head,  you’d better budget another $2000 for the Land Rover Discovery Sport, for the optional third seating row.


Of course, the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander comes standard with 19-inch alloys. That’s $1500 extra on the Land Rover Discovery Sport Td4. And if, like me, you wake up every morning humming ‘who’s the solar powered sex machine that’s a hit with all the chicks’ to the tune of Shaft, you’d want that big panoramic glass roof that’s standard in the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander and $1800 extra on the Land Rover Discovery Sport Td4.


It’s going to cost you $700 more for premium paint in the Land Rover Discovery Sport. (Unless you want to opt for the Phoenix Orange paint in your Discovery Sport - that’s going to be a jaw-dropping $2600 premium. That’s a five per cent premium: just absurd.) Premium paint is around $600 in the Hyundai Santa Fe; it's $1300 in the Land Rover Discovery Sport.


If you want roughly the same features as the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander in your Land Rover Discovery Sport Td4, you also need to buy the automated parking pack, the climate pack for the front seats, the 11-speaker premium sound system, and the Xenon light pack - just to get to the point of approximate objective equivalence between the two SUVs.


When you purchase all these Land Rover options and make the vehicles roughly the same on specifications, assuming you decline the absurd orange paint rip-off - your Land Rover Discovery Sport that’s actually line-ball on spec with the top-spec Santa Fe Highlander is going to knock you back $67,240. The Hyundai Santa Fe is still under $54,000 with all that stuff standard, inclusive of premium paint.

So: with the Land Rover Discovery Sport, it’s around 25 per cent more for the same thing. I don’t know about you, but I’m really struggling to justify the big, fat extra spend. I really am. I mean, Land Rover is not BMW. It’s not even Audi.

Land Rover makes a big hue and cry about its off-road ability … above and beyond … like Buzz Lightyear … but frankly that’s either irrelevant or intangible as far as (statistically) all Land Rover Discovery Sport owners will be concerned. Back on Earth, both the Land Rover Discovery Sport and the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander have more than enough off-road capability to satisfy the needs of buyers.

Parking in a disabled spot to run in and get that vital double-shot piccolo soy latte is as adventurous as they’re, generally, going to get. I really don’t think the North Face of the Eiger, or ability to conquer same, is up for grabs in either vehicle.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not wander into a dealership with the expectation of spending early $50,000s, and limp out with the ink drying on a contract, and my dignity in tatters, to the tune of almost $70,000. It’s certainly at the very least the first step on a path to disenchantment. And it doesn’t stop there, because there are many more thousands of dollars of upsell left in the Land Rover Discovery Sport business model. If you want to spend $85,000 on a new Land Rover Discovery Sport, step right up. It’s easy. Would you like an espresso with that?


Like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, Land Rover is actually pretty good at extreme premium. Take the Land Rover Range Rover. If you have $200,000 or more to spend, a Range Rover is a pretty good option. Come on in, be systematically violated. We’ll get you a manicure and a lobster tail vol au vant while you wait, and you won’t feel a thing. Feel good about yourself, and drive off financially exsanguinated in a Vogue. That’s how it works.

But this uber-premium style of business model does not translate down into the $50,000 SUV space. Here’s a vehicle, the name of which had to be changed from ‘Freelander’ because it was cursed in the manner of Carrie Fisher. Land Rover today is an Indian operation pretending to be British - a kind of 'reverse Raj' proposition - which is emblematic of poor reliability and sky-high ownership costs if history repeats.

So Land Rover's Discovery Sport is a risk - on the ownership cost and reliability front. But it is, quote: “The most versatile compact SUV,” if Land Rover’s marketing fluff is to detain us, momentarily.


All Hyundai can offer you, in contrast, is an honest, up-front pricing strategy, with all the big-ticket stuff thrown in standard, a five-year warranty with unlimited kilometres, capped-price servicing for life, and 10 years of complimentary roadside assistance. So, if you’re a Land Rover nutcase, the choice is pathologically clear. If, instead, you are a rational and objective buyer, the choice is also crystal. They’re just diametrically different choices. It’s a binary proposition. And an easy choice - if you have half a brain (or more).

Don’t misconstrue my objective enthusiasm for Santa Fe as some kind of unilateral evangelism for Hyundai - I wouldn’t be stepping up for a Hyundai Accent any time soon. And Hyundai Genesis (a $60,000 Hyundai car … after Honda crashed and burned so spectacularly, over and over, with Legend). What were they thinking? You could not feed me a petrol Hyundai i40, or an automatic atmo Veloster, and I’m absolutely certain I’d buy a Kia Rio instead of an i20 - on all days ending in ‘y’. Santa Fe is just an incredibly good vehicle - and it deserves considerable objective approbation.